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Where Are the Lightning Hotspots on Earth?

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  • 1 Instituto de Astronomia, Geofísica e Ciências Atmosféricas, Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil, and Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites-Maryland, University of Maryland, College Park, College Park, Maryland
  • | 2 NOAA/National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service, Greenbelt, Maryland
  • | 3 University of Alabama in Huntsville, Huntsville, Alabama
  • | 4 Marshall Space Flight Center, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Huntsville, Alabama
  • | 5 University of Alabama in Huntsville, Huntsville, Alabama
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Abstract

Previous total lightning climatology studies using Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS) observations were reported at coarse resolution (0.5°) and employed significant spatial and temporal smoothing to account for sampling limitations of TRMM’s tropical to subtropical low-Earth-orbit coverage. The analysis reported here uses a 16-yr reprocessed dataset to create a very high-resolution (0.1°) climatology with no further spatial averaging. This analysis reveals that Earth’s principal lightning hotspot occurs over Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela, while the highest flash rate density hotspot previously found at the lower 0.5°-resolution sampling was found in the Congo basin in Africa. Lake Maracaibo’s pattern of convergent windflow (mountain–valley, lake, and sea breezes) occurs over the warm lake waters nearly year-round and contributes to nocturnal thunderstorm development 297 days per year on average. These thunderstorms are very localized, and their persistent development anchored in one location accounts for the high flash rate density. Several other inland lakes with similar conditions, that is, deep nocturnal convection driven by locally forced convergent flow over a warm lake surface, are also revealed.

Africa is the continent with the most lightning hotspots, followed by Asia, South America, North America, and Australia. A climatological map of the local hour of maximum flash rate density reveals that most oceanic total lightning maxima are related to nocturnal thunderstorms, while continental lightning tends to occur during the afternoon. Most of the principal continental maxima are located near major mountain ranges, revealing the importance of local topography in thunderstorm development.

CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: Rachel Ifanger Albrecht, Universidade de São Paulo, Rua do Matão, 1226, 05508-090 São Paulo-SP, Brazil, E-mail: rachel.albrecht@iag.usp.br

A supplement to this article is available online (10.1175/BAMS-D-14-00193.2)

Abstract

Previous total lightning climatology studies using Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS) observations were reported at coarse resolution (0.5°) and employed significant spatial and temporal smoothing to account for sampling limitations of TRMM’s tropical to subtropical low-Earth-orbit coverage. The analysis reported here uses a 16-yr reprocessed dataset to create a very high-resolution (0.1°) climatology with no further spatial averaging. This analysis reveals that Earth’s principal lightning hotspot occurs over Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela, while the highest flash rate density hotspot previously found at the lower 0.5°-resolution sampling was found in the Congo basin in Africa. Lake Maracaibo’s pattern of convergent windflow (mountain–valley, lake, and sea breezes) occurs over the warm lake waters nearly year-round and contributes to nocturnal thunderstorm development 297 days per year on average. These thunderstorms are very localized, and their persistent development anchored in one location accounts for the high flash rate density. Several other inland lakes with similar conditions, that is, deep nocturnal convection driven by locally forced convergent flow over a warm lake surface, are also revealed.

Africa is the continent with the most lightning hotspots, followed by Asia, South America, North America, and Australia. A climatological map of the local hour of maximum flash rate density reveals that most oceanic total lightning maxima are related to nocturnal thunderstorms, while continental lightning tends to occur during the afternoon. Most of the principal continental maxima are located near major mountain ranges, revealing the importance of local topography in thunderstorm development.

CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: Rachel Ifanger Albrecht, Universidade de São Paulo, Rua do Matão, 1226, 05508-090 São Paulo-SP, Brazil, E-mail: rachel.albrecht@iag.usp.br

A supplement to this article is available online (10.1175/BAMS-D-14-00193.2)

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